5 Professional Tips for Covering India

By Covering Business     May 16, 2013

By Sameepa Shetty
Columbia Journalism School, C’13

Today, India boasts the world’s second-fastest growing economy, trailing only China. Its growth spurt has sparked interest and attention from Western media, particularly financial publications.

Covering business in India can be daunting but rewarding. For all of the economic expansion, there is a great deal of corruption. For all of the business opportunities, there are new bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles.

Vikas Bajaj , who covered India for The New York Times, and Amol Sharma, who covered the nation for The Wall Street Journal, spoke about their experiences last month at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. They discussed some of the challenges India can present to a new journalist and offered some tips for getting by.

Read the Local Papers

India’s own media is a good starting point for story ideas and themes. “India is overwhelming because there are too many news stories,” says Sharma. He recommends reading local publications to get a handle on the most important ones. “We looked to them for guidance,” Sharma says.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

The West has stringent standards when it comes to sourcing. That’s not the case in India, where even rumors may be reported. So read the headlines with some healthy skepticism. And don’t try to compete with Indian business publications for a scoop.

Ignore “No Comment”

In South Asia, getting information from the government is tough. “Ministers will lie to you,” says Bajaj. “People will give you wrong information and cancel on you fifteen times.” Mid-level bureaucrats can be particularly hard to get on the record, he says, “because if their quotes reflect poorly on the country, the downside is huge.” Don’t let this discourage you. Keep hounding the people you need.

Ask for Help With Language

Covering economic stories may land you in rural areas where the language or dialect changes every few kilometers. Sharma and Bajaj said they have a good grasp of Standard Hindi, the national language, but that they still found translators useful.

Aim for a Broader Readership

American freelancers working in India should get used to the idea that they don’t have to file every story for an American audience, says Sharma. Some issues that may be less important to the West may play quite well in South Asia. Be ready to write about a variety of topics, including poverty and development issues, but also sexual violence and local civil movements to curb corruption.

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